Calgary

Calgary-area mom served with cease-and-desist letter after going public with classroom concerns

A Calgary-area mother who spoke out to CBC News over concerns about a large combined Grade 2 class at Red Deer Lake School has been handed a cease-and-desist letter by a law firm on behalf of the school board.

Letter was written by large Edmonton law firm on behalf of Foothills School Division

Gillian Colborne took her son out of the Grade 2 class at Red Deer Lake School in Foothills, Alta., over concerns he was struggling in a large, combined classroom of 47 students and two teachers. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

A Calgary-area mother who spoke out to CBC News over concerns about a large combined Grade 2 class at Red Deer Lake School has been handed a cease-and-desist letter by a law firm on behalf of the school board.

The letter — served on behalf of the Foothills School Division — was written by Brownlee LLP, a large Edmonton law firm, and penned two days after CBC's original story was published.

"It's an example of trying to squash a fly with a sledgehammer," said Gillian Colborne, one of the mothers who spoke to CBC News after pulling her son from the class over concerns he was struggling in a large room with 47 kids and two teachers.

Colborne, who has another child attending the school, says parents have been trying to get answers from the school division for months, and she was surprised to receive the three-page cease-and-desist letter.

Other parents have also received the letter and are not willing to be interviewed as a result.

"We are parents attempting to advocate for our children in a very calm open manner," said Colborne. "It just seems unnecessary. I would have expected somebody to come to us and say, 'Oh, these are real and valid concerns you have. Let's sit down and talk about them.'"

Parents could be banned from school

The letter accuses parents of making false allegations in communications to various parties. It claims they've made defamatory comments, filed malicious complaints and says that they could be banned from the school. It also threatens legal action if they don't refrain from repeating or publishing their comments.

"Your advocacy has exceeded the boundaries of productive dialogue and devolved into disparaging the professional reputation of well-respected educators," the letter states.

It goes on to say the Foothills School Division has responded to each concern relating to their children. It accuses the parents of repeatedly pressuring school staff members through text messages, emails — as well as in person — and says several staff members claim they felt "unduly pressured by your relentless tactics."

"To be clear, you are to cease sending all e-mail or other correspondence that contains false or defamatory comments regarding any Foothills School Division employee to anyone. Any failure on your part to take heed of this warning may result in legal proceedings."

The Foothills School division declined CBC's request for an interview. In a written statement, a spokesperson says: "At times actions must be taken to ensure that third parties do not negatively impact a school environment and workplace."

"We feel that we have fully addressed any questions surrounding the Grade 2 classroom configuration at Red Deer Lake School," the email states.

"We maintain that it is an effective learning environment. As we stated previously, all parents are welcome to continue to discuss with their child's teacher(s) and school administration any concerns they have about their child's learning."

Barbara Silva with Support Our Students Alberta calls the cease-and-desist letters 'heavy-handed.' (CBC)

Letter called 'heavy-handed'

"It seems like a very heavy-handed way to shut this conversation down," said Barbara Silva, communications director with Support Our Students Alberta. "Once you bring in legal counsel, it sets up a David and Goliath dynamic."

Silva says she believes the parents' concerns about a large combined classroom are "well-founded" and exist around the province.

While her organization regularly hears from parents who feel their concerns aren't taken seriously by school divisions, Silva says she's never heard of a division taking this kind of legal step.

"Just the sheer image of a school board putting out cease-and-desist orders is pretty alarming," said Silva, who admits she isn't privy to all the communications that have occurred between the parents, the school and the school division.

"It puts parents in a position that either they're not going to come forward with their concerns, or they understand really clearly they're going to need to get legal counsel to do so. And that's going to make sure that a lot of people don't come forward with their concerns."

For her part, Colborne questions what this means for parents who are trying to advocate for their children.

"Who are we supposed to go to for help? What is the system for appeals in the situation where as a parent you need help?"

About the Author

Jennifer Lee

Reporter

Jennifer Lee is a CBC News reporter based in Calgary. She worked at CBC Toronto, Saskatoon, and Regina, before landing in Calgary in 2002. If you have a health or human interest story to share, let her know. Jennifer.Lee@cbc.ca